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MALTATODAY 24 April 2022

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12 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 24 APRIL 2022 NEWS CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 It concluded that it could not find any evidence that Azzopardi and his wife were abusing pub- lic funds, but it found Azzopardi was allowed to keep the grant money even should Manoel The- atre refuse to stage his plays. The Arts Council Malta had requested the re- view by audit firm RSM Malta after a statement submitted by the theatre director Sean Buhagiar, a former shareholder of Staġun Teatru Malti Limited, who alleged "unlawful and unjust ac- tion" by Mario Philip Azzopardi, namely "misuse of public funds which the company obtained". While Buhagiar claimed documents he had seen "hold evidence that there has been misuse of public funds which the company received", the invoices submitted by Arts Council officials related to invoices raised by Philip Azzopardi and his wife, Therese, for services provided to STM that were paid from the Manoel Theatre budget. The total of the invoice copies raised by Azzo- pardi amounted to €26,597, whilst those raised by his wife tallied to €2,300. These invoices were raised during the years 2014 and 2015. Azzopardi's Staġun Teatru Malti was granted an annual €20,000 grant by the finance ministry in 2014, for five years, to develop a minimum of three original theatrical scripts in Maltese annu- ally. The grant was administered by Teatru Manoel as part of an allocation of its own budget for the indicated purpose – that is, the funds were addi- tional funding granted by the ministry. The contract specified that funds were to be utilised solely for the development of the scripts, and not for co-production. Indeed, although the Teatru Manoel manage- ment might have turned down a script of Azzo- pardi if it so wished, the contract still allowed the theatre producer to claim the theatre's budget for the development of that script. While the RSM audit did not indicate misuse of public funds as alleged, the invoices indicat- ed a high proportion of payments made to the STM's director Mario Philip Azzopardi and his wife from the allocated grants. Yet no specific condition in the contract pre- cluded such disbursements. Indeed, the audit found that 72% of the dis- bursements covered invoices issued to Azzopar- di and his wife but no detailed breakdown of all the expenditure was available. And while Teatru Manoel had to disburse a minimum float of €5,000 to Azzopardi upon presentation of authorised expenditure, the money was found to have been paid out on re- quest of STM directors instead. A copy of STM's audited income and expendi- ture account for the season 2014/5 was only pre- sented over a year after all disbursements for that theatrical season had been effected. No similar information for 2015/6 was submitted despite all disbursements for the year having been effected six months earlier. "The budget that had to be included... was ap- parently not drawn up and attached to the con- tract. This matter limited significantly the effec- tiveness of the controls that could be exercised on the disbursements," the audit found. Teatru Manoel management also told the au- ditors that although they had the right not to ac- cept Azzopardi's scripts, while also being entitled to review a synopsis of his scripts by end-August, "no synopsis was ever handed for their consid- eration. Similarly, the draft script was not sub- mitted regularly to [Teatru Manoel] prior to the performance. Generally, the board would simply discuss the title of the script." In further observations, accounts for STM re- vealed that payments of €4,477 were made with- out any VAT receipts. "Such matters may possi- bly have indicated that STM lacked an effective system of controls over the amount of expendi- ture recorded and financed through the grant," the RSM audit noted. Xiha controversy The Teatru Manoel board unanimously decid- ed to cancel Azzopardi's upcoming production of Ix-Xiħa over a public outcry on its lampoon- ing of Daphne Caruana Galizia's last published words. Azzopardi claimed actors for his production Ix-Xiħa quit the cast after "claims threats of vi- olence" and that his production has now been cancelled. He did not identify the actors. The producer and the Manoel Theatre board were under intense criticism for hosting the up- coming play, which had already been refused by artistic director Kenneth Zammit Tabona. Zammit Tabona was never consulted by the Manoel Theatre board when Azzopardi resub- mitted his script in 2020, straight after appear- ing in front of the Caruana Galizia public inquiry board where he had been questioned about his play. Ix-Xiħa was already refused in 2020, years after Zammit Tabona first refused Azzopardi's Min qatel lil Daphne? (Who Killed Daphne?) in 2015. The play is co-financed by a €20,000 finance ministry grant to encourage Maltese-language plays. The play portrays a dead mother who, con- versing with the audience, plots revenge on her snobbish four children by disinheriting them in favour of the family servant and nanny. In one of the lines intended to bait audiences to Caruana Galizia's last words published on her blog, the 'Jenny' character says "May your chil- dren die of cancer. There are crooks everywhere you see. A desperate situation." ("Jalla it-tfal tagħkom imutu kollha kemm huma bil-kanċer. Kull fejn tħares, ħallelin biss. SITWAZZJONI DDISPRATA.") Outrage at the play's announcement on Thurs- day led to the leak of a version of the Azzopardi script, published on Manuel Delia's blog, who called it "shallow, badly written, and superficial, and it is bad because it is spiteful, full of hate, prejudice, and disturbingly incurable visceral vi- olence." Azzopardi has insisted Ix-Xiħa is a work of sat- ire. "In satire nothing is sacred. Why should it be. What is the meaning of 'sacred' anyway? And how could [the inquiry] judge if they knew noth- ing about what they were talking about?" Theatre audit found contract loopholes Thank you... for having bought this newspaper The good news is that we're not raising the price of our newspaper We know times are still hard, but we have pledged to keep giving our readers quality news they deserve, without making you pay more for it. So thank you, for making it your MaltaToday Support your favourite newspaper with a special offer on online PDF subscriptions. Visit or scan the QR code Subscriptions can be done online on Same-day delivery at €1 for orders up to 5 newspapers per address. Subscribe from €1.15 a week Same-day print delivery from Miller Distributors mt

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